Star Trek: Vanguard #1: Harbinger Mass Market Paperback – Jul 26 2005
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About the Author
David Mack is the national bestselling author of more than a dozen books, including Wildfire, Harbinger, Reap the Whirlwind, Road of Bones, and the Star Trek Destiny trilogy—Gods of Night, Mere Mortals, and Lost Souls. His first original novel, the supernatural thriller The Calling, debuted in July 2009 to critical acclaim. In addition to novels, Mack’s diverse writing credits span several media, including television, film, short fiction, magazines, newspapers, comic books, computer games, radio, and the Internet. He currently resides in New York City.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
The sultry jungle night buzzed with the sawing song of nocturnal insects. With a casual sweep of his hand, Cervantes Quinn pulled a long twist of his tangled, bone-white hair from his eyes and tucked it behind his ear. An insidious humidity amplified the post-sundown radiant heat and left Quinn's sweat-sodden clothing clinging like a skin graft with pockets to his thick-middled, past-its-prime body.
He straightened from his crouch and reached into his left pants pocket. Nestled deep inside, under the lock-picking kit, past his last snack stick of meat-flavored synthetic something-or-other, was his flask. As quietly as he was able, he pulled it free, unscrewed the cap, and downed a swig of nameless green liquor. It tasted horrible. He kept it in his flask only because his most frequent employer, an Orion merchant-prince named Ganz, had an irregular habit of demanding that other people pour him impromptu drinks -- and then shooting anyone who poured something he didn't like. Ganz liked the green stuff.
Awful as it was, it still constituted a minor improvement over the stale aftertaste of the pseudo-beef snack stick Quinn had devoured an hour ago. He took another swig, then tucked the half-empty flask back into the bottom of his pocket. This stakeout was taking longer than he had expected. He had imagined himself long gone by now, the pilfered device securely hidden behind the false wall panel in the cargo bay of his private freighter, the Rocinante. Instead, he swatted blindly at the high-pitched mosquitoes that he could hear dive-bombing his head but couldn't see unless they passed between him and the lights of the camp below.
From his vantage point deep in the undergrowth, beyond the tree line that marked the perimeter of the mining camp, he saw the prospectors moving from one semipermanent building to another. Most were winding down for the night, settling into their bunks, making final trips to the latrine. Vexing him were the two who continued to sit inside their Spartan mess hall, playing the most uninspired game of cards Quinn had ever seen.
He was certain he could beat them handily in just about any game, from Texas Hold'em to Denobulan Wildcard. For a moment, he allowed himself to consider scrapping his mission of covert confiscation in favor of card-sharking the mining team. Quinn's common sense awoke from its slumber and reminded him not only that it would be wrong to cheat honest working folks but that, if he returned to Vanguard without the sensor screen he'd been sent to steal, Ganz would garnish his next buffet with Quinn's viscera.
Patience was not one of Quinn's stronger virtues, but his impulses were usually kept in check by his healthy fear of death, injury, and incarceration. Long after he had become convinced that his knees had fused into position and would never allow him to straighten again, the last two miners restacked their cards, snapped an elastic band around them, and left them on the table as they got up. They turned out the mess-hall lamp and stepped out the door into the murky spills of weak orange light from lamps strung on drooping wires between their shacks. Despite the multilayered soundscape of the jungle that surrounded Quinn, he heard their every squishing step as they trudged across the muddy dirt road and passed out of sight on the far side of the barracks. Their shadows, long and blurred, fell across another building. Deep, repetitive clomping sounds echoed around the camp as the miners kicked the wet filth from their boots. Finally they entered their barracks, and the door slam-rattled shut behind them.
Batting away lush fronds and dangling loops of thorny vines, Quinn skulked forward toward the camp. An arthritic aching in his knees threatened to slow him down, but he ignored it, lured forward by the promise of an easy night's work. He paused at the edge of the tree line. There was no sign of automated security devices -- no cameras, motion detectors, or sentry guns. Not that he had expected any, necessarily, but the presence of the sensor screen in a mining camp had aroused his suspicion. It wasn't the kind of equipment normally found in civilian hands. Ganz hadn't said how he had come to learn of its presence here on Ravanar IV, and Quinn wasn't foolish enough to ask.
He unholstered his stun pistol. The street was empty. In the distance, something shrieked three times in quick succession and something else roared in reply. With his hand resting lightly on the grip of his sidearm, he emerged from the trees and moved in a quick, low jog across the street. The mud under his boots made every step an adventure; it slipped like congealed hydraulic lubricant and stank like the open sewers of Korinar. Several quick steps brought him back into the cover of shadow. He leaned sideways and cast a furtive glance around the corner into the dark, narrow stretch between the barracks and the equipment shed. It was empty, and he stole into it, his feet seeking out the driest -- and therefore quietest -- patches of ground from stride to stride.
The sensor screen was larger than he had expected. Ganz's drawing of the device had not been to scale, and it had led Quinn to believe that its removal would be as simple as unplugging it and tucking it under one arm. On the contrary, the cylindrical machine was almost as big as Quinn himself, and, if his approximation of its duranium content was on the money, it was at least twice as heavy. He considered stealing one of the miners' cargo pallets, but then he remembered how much noise the lifter would make. Damn thing'll wake the entire camp, he groused silently. This would've been easier if my ship had a transporter. He had often toyed with the notion of installing one, but his ship's limited power-generation capability meant that to operate a transporter would require sacrificing another system of equal energy level. Unfortunately, the only one that came close was the inertial dampener, and since it was the one thing that prevented routine starflight from turning him into chunky salsa, he was loath to part with it.
An idea occurred to him: I could just steal the active component and leave the power module. Just take the part that's hard to get. Examining the device more closely, he realized that the top segment constituted the screen generator, and that once it was separated from the much larger and heavier power supply he would be able to carry it out on his own. He dug into the lower pockets along his pants leg, found the tools he needed, and set to work. Another quick scan registered no sign of power inside the device; it appeared to be inert. That was for the best, in Quinn's opinion. A few simple twists and toggles later, he decoupled its primary power-supply cable.
No sooner had the cable come free than a scramble of data flooded his scanner. Eyeing the readings, he made the belated discovery that the sensor screen had, in fact, been active the entire time he had been here -- and, true to its intended function, it had fooled his scanner.
His ears detected the muffled din of an alarm klaxon. Doors banged open against sheet-metal shelter walls. Running footfalls slapped through the mud, converging on his location. Using a sonic screwdriver he'd swiped from a rather daft chap back on Barolia, he torqued off the sensor screen's restraining bolts, wrapped his arms around the screen generator, and hefted it with an agonized grunt. He stumbled backward, tripped over something that he couldn't see in the dark, and dropped the device.
With the unmistakable crack of something breaking, the device struck whatever unseen piece of junk had found its way under Quinn's feet. A sizable chunk of it struck his foot hard enough to launch a string of vulgarities from his mouth. Hopping on his good foot proved an unwise reaction, as he immediately slipped and wound up on his back, in the mud, and looking at a cluster of angry miners at the end of the alley.
"Hey, fellas," he said, flailing in the muck to get himself upright. "I know this looks pretty bad, but -- " One of the men drew what Quinn was certain was a Starfleet phaser pistol. Assessing the situation calmly, Quinn ran like hell.
With his arms and legs windmilling as he struggled for traction on the greasy mud, his movement was so clumsy and erratic that the first phaser shot -- whose tonal pitch Quinn recognized as level-five heavy stun -- narrowly missed him and scorched the wall behind his head. Finding his footing, he sprinted out of the alley on a mad dash for the tree line. As he crossed the street, he heard the group of armed men running up the alley to follow him.
Two more simultaneous phaser shots quickened Quinn's already frantic pace. One sizzled the mud behind his heel; the other passed over his shoulder and crisped its way through the foliage. He plunged straight into the stygian forest, zigzagging through the densely packed trees and ducking through nooses of vine. Blue phaser fire shimmered in the gloom, slicing wildly around his chaotic path.
Where's the damn trail? Seconds seemed stretched by the adrenaline coursing through Quinn's brain. He felt like he'd been running twice as long as necessary to find the path back to his ship. Then he broke free of the jungle's clinging tendrils and stumbled out onto the narrow, dry creek bed he had followed down this side of the hill from his ship. At the time, landing on the other side of the hilltop had seemed clever. Banked in steep, thick cloud cover even at this low elevation, it had enabled him to glide in unseen and unheard.
Now, unfortunately, it meant running for his life uphill.
His pursuers were getting closer. Time for tricks, he concluded. Several meters ahead, a sizable boulder offered him some cover. He reached the rock and dove to the ground behind it just before another volley of neon-blue phaser beams lashed across its pitted face. Fumbling through assorted bits of junk in his pockets, he found the detonator. The angry whine of another phaser blast bit off nearly a quarter of one side of the bould...
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
As you read you begin to realize that there are a multiple mysteries being set up within the narrative, the most obvious being what's so special about the Taurus Reach. By the end of the first chapter you are already intrigued by the ambiguities surrounding the station and as the story continues to build, the more you read the more you want to know.
Vanguard has a large cast of characters, both principal and supporting, most of whom are all trying to get to the bottom of what's going on, each for a different reason. Mack takes his time introducing the main characters, continuously building up an ever evolving picture of them as individuals. The mix of characters provides a nice balance. They aren't all Starfleet and they most definitely aren't what you'd expect. This approach to `casting' the series provides the reader with multiple points of view as events unfold. The various characters feel real in their responses and reactions to the events they find themselves caught up in. Some of the characters you'll like, some you'll loathe but they are individually and collectively a fascinating bunch.
The time frame for Vanguard is firmly anchored by the use of a major point in Star Trek history, the Enterprise's disastrous mission to the barrier. While Mack does sprinkle in various homage's to the TOS era, and address some discrepancies seen on screen between "Where No Man Has Gone Before" and "The Corbomite Maneuver", he never allows the Enterprise crew to take over the story, they are very much supporting characters in this first novel.
HARBINGER has it all; adventure, suspense, nail-biting action, character's you very quickly come to care about and the occasional twist to keep you on your toes. Based on what has been set up in HARBINGER for future authors to expand on, I have no doubt that the Vanguard series is going to be a sensational addition to the Star Trek universe.
Starbase 47, also known as Vanguard, is a station way out beyond Federation space, in a zone sandwiched between the Klingon Empire and Tholian space. Built very quickly, it also has a secret purpose, one which only a few members of Starfleet's hierarchy know. Captain Kirk is bringing the Enterprise back from the edge of the galaxy, after the events of the television episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before." The ship is battered, his friend is dead at his own hand, and Kirk just wants to get home and refit. He discovers that the Vanguard station is along their way home, and is much closer than limping back to Federation space, so he takes the Enterprise there. When he gets there, his suspicions are aroused by the reluctance of Commodore Reyes to answer his questions about why the station is out there, and he becomes determined to get to the bottom of what's going on.
Let me start right away by saying that, while a lot of the description of the above was about Kirk, this is *not* his book. Kirk and the Enterprise are only in this book to do a "hand-off" to the crew and characters of Vanguard, much like the appearance of Picard in Deep Space Nine's pilot. This is the raw rookie Kirk, not yet the legend, and people don't kowtow to him (though he isn't above bullying his way in anyway). Reyes shoots him down quite quickly when Kirk begins demanding answers. I quite liked Reyes' character, as he has quite a few flaws, but he is loyal to his crew and to Starfleet, as well as harboring a secret or two of his own. I loved the scenes between Kirk and him, where Mack illustrates the differences between the two commanders.
Mack handles the other characters brilliantly too, introducing them all in scenes that don't sink to "info-dump" level, instead having their initial scenes flow from the characters themselves. Pennington, the Federation News Service reporter, is having an affair with one of the officers on the Bombay (a ship assigned to Vanguard), whose husband happens to be a crewmember on the Enterprise. He's a reporter with a keen eye for a story, and a willingness to dig very deep if necessary. Throughout the book, Pennington's life goes from a great high at the beginning of the book to a deep low as events happen. By the time the inevitable happens and he begins to think his life can't get any worse, the reader has grown to care about him a great deal. He is probably one of the best new characters in the book, but he is not the only one.
This crew is not your typical Star Trek crew. This is a time where the utopia of the Next Generation series hasn't happened yet, and the Federation is still in danger of falling to an outside threat if they're not careful. The characters are not perfect, and some have really deep flaws. Not only that, but Mack doesn't present us with the normal "captain, first officer, chief engineer, etc" crew. Reyes is the commander, we briefly see the first officer, but he's not a main character. Instead, we have a reporter, a merchant/smuggler (for those of you familiar with the old Trek series, think Cyrano Jones), an Orion crime lord, a Federation diplomat and his assistant (the assistant also being a Klingon spy) and a Starfleet Intelligence agent, among others. This eclectic mix just adds to the story possibilities.
As for the plot, Starfleet has discovered something mysterious and potentially valuable in the Taurus Reach (the area of space where Vanguard is), and it must be kept secret from the Klingons and Tholians. They desperately want to know what it is. This storyline will continue through the series, so we're not given too much information about this find, other than it appears to be a massive amount of raw data. The way Mack has written this first book, the ideas for where this story can go are endless, and they don't all have to revolve around this overarching plot. That's the sign of a good series, and I hope it continues.
In typical Mack fashion, Harbinger has quite a lot of death and destruction, but uncharacteristically, this only takes place in one scene. The rest of the book is quite character-based, introducing all of them and showing us how they are related. Mack writes these scenes almost flawlessly, with each one building strongly on the ones before it. He switches effortlessly between the numerous character threads, having them interact occasionally, and parceling out their secrets like he's awarding treats to the reader. It's quite effective in making you keep going, and I finished this book much more quickly than I usually do, as I couldn't put it down.
Harbinger makes a wonderful beginning to the Vanguard saga, and as Kirk and company head off back to Earth, I'm quite confident that the crew and residents of Starbase 47 can stand on their own numerous feet. David Mack's given them a good start, and the stars are the limit for where they can go. This is one of the best Trek books of the year.
One of the things that the novel does wonderfully right off the bat is in creating and laying out the setting of a brand new space station in 2265. The entire novel is put into the context of the pre-established Trek universe by having the station host the Enterprise after its trip to the galactic barrier in the second pilot episode. Kirk and company are the guest stars and in their segments, the book helps create more mystery about the Vanguard operation. Why was the station rushed into construction in this desolate expanse of space sandwiched between two hostile alien species? The discovery on Ravanar IV may not be the only reason.
Inhabiting Vanguard is a motley crew of misfits and characters of dubious respectability. Commodore Diego Reyes is a stern and at times distant leader, who actually ends up spending much of the book as a co-conspirator in a nebulous operation possibly regarding ancient structures found buried on planets throughout the region. Also in on the plot is T'Prynn, the Vulcan intelligence officer and Jetanian, the Chelon Federation ambassador. I did have a minor quibble at the indifference shown towards one character's situation as a result of their actions in an attempt to quell a JAG inquiry. Perhaps that stems from T'Prynn's particularly cold demeanor. Some kind of recompense would have been appreciated by this reader, but maybe that's somewhere down the road.
Much of the novel's most detailed character arcs actually deal with reporter Tim Pennington and thief Cervantes Quinn. Both are put through the ringer on the outskirts of the cover-up due to a space battle that happens halfway through the book between the U.S.S. Bombay and several Tholian cruisers. The pacing up through this battle is pretty quick and breathless. Afterwards, it slows down a bit to focus on Pennington's investigation. Quinn's direct connection with the story is actually at the very beginning. I was a bit curious as to the continued focus on him after that as it seemed to follow him on unrelated adventures (except obviously when he becomes a source for T'Prynn).
The lack of details about the mystery never gets too frustrating, although I'd be a liar if I didn't say that I wish the book had just laid everything out on the table by the end. It would have just made for better closure for this book to know what all the subterfuge was about and then explore more later on. I'm guessing Starfleet wants to make use of the discovery, although I bet the events of the epilogue will change that.
With a new setting, Harbinger does a great job at creating a place in the mind. Including a fold-out with the design sure helps too. One of the biggest problems I can have with Trek books is that they're not descriptive enough of their surroundings, even when they're the authors' own creations. Some can be ridiculously minimalistic. The story effortlessly shows off different areas of the whole station, easily giving off the impression of its enormous size. Kudos for also including several different Starfleet vessels as part of Vanguard's contingent (and including their class names). Using the interpretation of the Tholians from The Sundered is also a huge plus.
Vanguard: Harbinger is a very promising start to a series that may put the era of the original series in an interesting new light using the latest dash of continuity from the recent line of books. It sets the groundwork for a lot of future conflict between characters and empires and it'll be interesting to see if the series keeps what some (including myself I suppose) might see as a rather dour approach to Federation/Starfleet operations. I'll be curious as to where the story goes and I can't wait for the next one either way.